Developing a Positive Workplace Atmosphere

Happy New Year everyone! It’s time once again to participate in that time-honored tradition of the New Year’s resolution. A time where we reflect inward, and then implement the changes we want to make for the better. Many are personal changes, while others can be professional changes. Some professionals even incorporate the changes they want to make into workplace goals for the year, in hopes of reinforcing the resolve to accomplish them.

One goal many of us put our efforts into each year is improving the quality of the workplace atmosphere so that student and professional staff members can enjoy their work while feeling supported by administration, allowing for personal growth and high-quality production. We tend to look at big picture items for this goal.

Staff trainings and retreats to establish policy knowledge and promote bonding and incentive programs to inspire production and energy are just a couple variants on this endeavor. However, there is another opportunity with this goal we as professionals tend to overlook. Maybe it is because we feel it is not as impactful as the big-ticket items and just brush it off, or simply because we do not feel comfortable ourselves confronting it. That opportunity is employee or peer correction.

Many of us have seen this scenario: A peer or subordinate performs or responds to a task or action incorrectly, and we get that “twinge” inside of us. We have witnessed a performance that, in that immediate context, has not been done properly and we know it needs to change or improve. However, the comfort level to adjust the behavior is not present, for whatever reason.

When this occurs, the behavior or action is not corrected and opportunities for teachable moments and improvements in the workplace have passed. Lack of correction can also be seen as an endorsement of the result. While it is known that the behavior or reaction should not occur, the passive reaction can reinforce and continue it. Other peers and employees could be viewing the same scenario, and noting a lack of response as an endorsement of the behavior, causing resentment towards employees, and mistrust in administration. A great phrase I learned involving this is, “Whatever your permit, you promote.”

Handling corrective situations can be tricky, so here are tips to make sure everyone get the most out of the situation:

  • Correct the issue as soon as possible: Immediate feedback is essential for the individual to understand the mistake made. Find a neutral place to speak and do so without an audience observing.
  • Remember that you are in control: Your peer or employee will take cues from you. Raising your voice will most likely cause them to raise theirs. Stay calm and collected when having your discussion.
  • Don’t apologize for the meeting: You’ve done nothing wrong, and why would you apologize for making sure someone is performing to expectations?
  • When talking about the behavior, describe what you observe and not the individual’s values.
  • Allow for dialogue, and leave an opening for further discussion later in case there are questions.
  • When you adjourn, make sure both parties understand the policy.
  • If necessary, document the discussion with the appropriate supervisor.
  • Be calm and confident AFTER the discussion, and move forward so the individual can also move forward and learn without intimidation or worry.

Confronting and correcting your peers and employees is never easy. If you do so in a timely and informative fashion, then the opportunity to process and learn from the mistake will provide a teachable moment, garner respect and create a more positive work environment.

Make it your resolution this year to have more positive encounters and… well… resolutions!


Scott Flickinger is the Robert D. Kennedy ’54 Director of Intramural Sports at Cornell University. He has been in campus rec as a professional since 2003 and is also the current Brand Management Chair for the NIRSA Championship Series.

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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